Pope Francis meets with oil executives, says ‘no time to lose’ on climate change

The pontiff calls for "a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels."

Pope Francis greets the audience during the Weekly General Audience in St. Peter's Square. CREDIT: Photo by Giuseppe Ciccia/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Pope Francis greets the audience during the Weekly General Audience in St. Peter's Square. CREDIT: Photo by Giuseppe Ciccia/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pope Francis invited global business executives, including the heads of Exxon Mobil, Eni and BP, to the Vatican Saturday and told them that they needed to help the world make a faster shift to cleaner energy because climate change, a challenge of “epochal proportions,” risked the destruction of humanity.

“Civilization requires energy but energy use must not destroy civilization,” Francis said in an address to the executives at the end of a two-day conference, called “Energy Transition and Care of Our Common Home,” at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. “There is no time to lose.”

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ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods, ENI head Claudio Descalzi, BP’s Bob Dudley, Equinor (formerly called Statoil) CEO Eldar Saetre, and Occidental Petroleum CEO Vicki Hollub were among the 50 executives who attended the conference, as did global financial titans like Blackrock CEO Larry Fink.

“Will we turn the corner in time? No one can answer that with certainty,” the pope said. “But with each month that passes, the challenge of energy transition becomes more pressing.”

Francis focused on the need to keep fossil fuel reserves underground, which has long been a priority for those focused on climate action, including the governments of every single nation on earth (but one) which signed the Paris climate accord.

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“Carbon dioxide emissions remain very high,” Francis said. “This is disturbing and a cause for real concern. More worrying is the continued search for new fossil fuel reserves, whereas the Paris Agreement clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground.”

Scientists say the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground to keep warming under two degrees C, the goal of the Paris climate agreement.

The meeting occurred just days after the one year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

The pope cut to the chase in the closed-door meeting with the leaders of some of the biggest fossil fuel companies on the planet.

“Energy should be clean,” Francis said, “by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels.”

According to new analysis this month from the Overseas Development Institute, members of the G7 are still subsidizing fossil fuel companies to the tune of $100 billion, despite promising every year since 2009 to phase out those subsidies.

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One U.S. senator did his best to warn Pope Francis of what he dubbed the “duplicitous” nature of the fossil fuel industry in their stated support for climate action and lack of any real tangible change.

In a letter sent to the pope last week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said: “I wish to bring your attention to the discrepancy, among those oil companies who do substantial business in the United States, between their public facing statements, and their political and lobbying activity as regards the United States Congress.”Whitehouse then detailed the industry’s obstruction of climate legislation, its support for fossil fuel subsidies, and the way “secretive, ultra-rich industrialists” help screen this action from public view.

In 2015, when he visited the United States, Francis spent most of the time during his first address talking about climate change. That same year the Catholic leader released “Laudato Si (Praise Be), On the Care of Our Common Home”, an encyclical centered on climate change and calling on everyone on the planet to “combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

When Trump visited the Vatican last year, Francis gave him a copy, and urged him to stay in the Paris agreement.

Francis’ climate advocacy does have its critics in this forum. Former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister told Fox Business last week that the pope doesn’t understand the energy world and that his ideology makes “no common sense.”

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On another hand, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt uses his religious sense to justify the massive deregulation and support for the fossil fuel industry. “The biblical worldview with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network in February.

Yet Francis’ words on Saturday advocated clean energy as the best way to care for one another.

“We know that the challenges facing us are interconnected. If we are to eliminate poverty and hunger,” Francis said, “the more than one billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it.”

“Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty,” he said.

The pope said a transition to accessible, clean energy was “a duty that we owe towards millions of our brothers and sisters around the world, poorer countries and generations yet to come.”